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Some Kentucky employers offering incentives to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations

From Amazon gift cards to cash, businesses around Kentucky are finding creative ways to encourage vaccination among their employees.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “He was just the best guy you know, someone that you just want to go up and hug," said Dustin Grutza, who lost his uncle to COVID-19.

In just two weeks, Grutza saw his uncle go from the life of the party to lifeless. 

“He was tested positive for COVID. Within a week, he was going to the emergency room. Within three days after that, he was intubated and that was the last time we got to really speak to him," he said.

It motivated Grutza, the CEO of CraftForce, a job-placement company in Covington, to do all he could to prevent his employees from experiencing his pain. 

“And we wanted to make sure we gave them as much information as possible but also gave them the opportunity," said Grutza.

He said he wanted to make sure his entire staff had the privilege of getting vaccinated. He even helped schedule appointments. For any of his 92 employees who got vaccinated, they got a day off with pay, and $100. Staffing director Justin Denham used that time and money to fix up his car, spending the day at the Red River Gorge. 

“I got some fancy off-road bits and bobs for my Jeep so I could go a little bit further off-grid," said Denham.

From cold hard cash and baseball tickets to Amazon gift cards, companies across the state are thinking outside the box to incentivize employees to get the shot. 

“I think we know that this is the key to getting our economy back," said Ashli Watts, the president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the state's largest business association. 

Watts is sharing the results of their latest survey, conducted earlier this month, with us for the first time. Among hundreds of businesses across the state who responded to their survey, almost all employers are offering incentives to employees who get vaccinated, like money, paid time off, or both. Their survey found 82 percent of businesses are strongly encouraging vaccination. Only 5 percent are mandating it. A total of 80 percent of employers are keeping track of who gets vaccinated, and 28 percent have hosted on-site clinics. 

“The business community has really been very pro vaccine. We want to make sure all Kentuckians are safe and that we can get back to business," said Watts. 

But it hasn’t been easy to change minds. Despite the incentives, only about a quarter of CraftForce’s workforce is vaccinated. 

“So it was a little disappointing to find out so many people weren’t interested in it," said Denham.

But the CEO of his company, Grutza, said he’ll keep texting and emailing his staff about the vaccine. He’ll continue offering extra perks for those who get it. Because he doesn’t want his colleagues to go through the loss that still hurts him every day. He never got to say goodbye to his uncle. 

“That is probably the hardest thing about it is how quickly it happens and you cannot connect and have those goodbyes or anything like that," he said.

A survey earlier this year by the nonprofit Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found half of adults in the state who are reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine are open to changing their minds if they had more information. And that’s exactly what many businesses are trying to provide: information and perks to employees who say "yes" to the shot.

►Contact reporter Paula Vasan at pvasan@whas11.com on TwitterFacebook or Instagram

►Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at FOCUS@whas11.com

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